A few people worried I wouldn’t be able to finish writing Movement and Location because I started over so many times. But once I got to draft seventeen, I didn’t touch it again. I changed nothing on set. It felt completely done to me.
When I revise, I work my way through the entirety of the script, as fast as possible, skipping whatever I can’t figure out, and I aim to clear 10-20 pages a day. I call that a pass. Between 3-9 passes gets me a draft, which is the best that I can make it. A draft is what I share with people for notes.
Right now I have a new feature script called Behave, which I began writing in January of 2015 and began again from scratch in January of 2016. I finished my page one rewrite this afternoon. It’s draft nine.
I don’t love that my process involves starting over, but with Movement and Location, my many rewrites made the story better and easier to film. I’m hopeful that the same thing happens with this new one. It’s a hard mental adjustment to make, thinking that I’m done and then the cold shower of realizing I’m wrong. But once I get over that, it’s freeing to delete whatever I want. There were things in Behave I felt married to because I thought of them first and there were dynamics and locations I found boring but they were too baked into the existing structure to remove. I kept the most basic one-sentence premise and most of the primary characters. Everything else is new.
So what’s to keep me from rewriting forever? An excellent question, although one I’d like to be asked less often.
When I’m working on something, I know I don’t need any more passes if I left nothing undone in the pass that came before. For instance, summaries of complicated scenes have been replaced with the scenes themselves. All the placeholder dialogue is out. I’ve cut down my overwritten action lines. I think of how water carves rock, by rushing past it again and again. I do passes until I can get through the whole thing and nothing snags. I hunt for moments that make me think, if I were watching this as a movie, here’s where I’d glance at my phone.
At the end of that process I have a draft, and I finish each draft in good faith that I’m done writing. I am wrong about this until I’m not. Dan Savage says: Every relationship in your life will fail, until one doesn’t. I would add: Same with drafts.
With the last draft of the script for Movement and Location, the feedback I got from readers changed. It was more positive in general, although some people still had problems with it. But their negative feedback didn’t make me defensive or inspire new ideas. I just didn’t agree with it, which is how I knew I didn’t need to listen.
This brand new ninth draft of Behave just went out to a group of people I trust. I’m typing these words in the surreality that precedes receiving any kind of feedback at all. Maybe I made it worse. I might have gotten rid of everything that made the story interesting. It’s really, really different from draft eight. I don’t think I made it worse, but if I did, I hope someone tells me. I’d rather know while it’s words on paper and not video in an edit suite.
So I might be done. I feel done. I feel great, actually. I put an enormous amount of effort into this draft and had a ball writing it (not true for prior drafts) and I think those things come across. But everything will fail until it doesn’t. The trick is having faith that I can get it to that point, whether that’s this draft or takes me ten more tries.
I do have faith. I know I have it in me to hack at the thing until it’s worth the five years of my life to make.
But fingers crossed someone reads it soon.
When people ask me where I got the idea for Movement and Location – the most frequently asked question at film festival Q&As – I think often what they really want to know is how to make a project idea occur to them, bang, fully formed.
Movement and Location came out of the collision of many tiny bad ideas, followed by an absurd amount of from-scratch, start-over revising, where I tried out different versions of a similar story, always centered on different iterations of (mostly) the same characters. I backed, haphazardly, into the final plot.
Some people do find ideas fully formed. Stephen King, for example. In his wonderful memoir On Writing, which I frequently recommend to people who want to write, King explains how a plot is a thing he uncovers. He describes it like he’s digging out an artifact, gently chipping away until the shape is revealed, never planning too far in advance, letting the story find him. But Stephen King is a genius and has worked a billion hours on his craft. I would give up so quickly if I used this approach. I outline and then revise and revise that outline before I transfer it to a screenplay formatted draft and then I revise and revise and revise that draft. I need to work out a lot of bad ideas before I land on a good one.
Movement and Location was my first screenplay, and I began writing it because I wanted to act in another feature. I had a fairly shitty idea for a science fiction story but thought it was at least a place to begin. I talked to a friend from college about it, and he suggested a much better idea for a science fiction premise, which I then ran with instead. Thank you, Pitr. This help and initial idea were invaluable, and why he and I share a “story by” credit on the film.
It’s pretty amazing to remember my first draft. Mostly it’s humbling. I didn’t know what I was doing so just barreled through until I had something that felt complete-ish and appeared to be formatted correctly. I was so proud of myself for finishing it, but it was also the worst. And I gave it to people to read and then had to look in their faces when they told me what they’d honestly thought. But wanting to act in it turned out to be a much stronger motivation than I gave it credit for being at the time. So I kept working on it. Over and over, for a year and a half.
During that process I read some books that were really transformative. Story by Robert McKee is a very famous one, and I found it intimidating but useful. It taught me what it meant to have a midpoint, and that every scene should have an arc. Basic stuff that I just didn’t know. Then a friend in LA recommended Save the Cat by Blake Snyder, and that book completely changed everything. Snyder has a “beat sheet” format that I still use. It helps with structuring key moments like the opening image, statement of theme, the catalyst, the midpoint, everything, and has corresponding page numbers for when they should occur. My outlines are modeled after the Snyder beat sheet, because then I know I have enough of a story. I think the parameters of the structure contain a lot of freedom, while also keeping a thing from meandering too much, as something interesting really does have to happen every five to ten pages. I think the trick is to hit these beats but hide them, and stories that do this well are so, so satisfying to watch.
Writing a screenplay taught me how to write a screenplay. Now I have tactics for generating ideas and getting unstuck. I’m also way better at not taking criticism personally, even when it’s someone making me realize that a project I thought was done is nowhere near done. I enjoy the process of writing now, and feel lucky when I sit down to do it. This is the ideal, I think. To come at the work with a sense of appreciating the luck that you get to do it at all. This gets me through a lot of frustration.
I was at dinner with some friends recently, and someone mentioned that she can only write when she’s miserable, which made me sad. Misery is not the most interesting catalyst for creativity. Habit can get you there, too. Try sitting down every day to think about the same project, and then write down what’s on your mind. Repeating this every day will teach you how to do it, and how to learn to like doing it. You’ll be helpless against improvement.
A relevant quote from King’s On Writing:
“Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position.”
“The scariest moment is always just before you start.”
The movie is coming out. THE MOVIE IS COMING OUT.
September 18-24, we’ll be screening (5x a day!) at Cinema Village in Manhattan. You can buy tickets here! There will be a Q&A at every day’s 7:05pm screening. Alexis and I will be there, and we’ll be joined by a rotating line-up of crew and cast and musicians. There will definitely be a party on Sept 18 – details coming soon.
Then September 22nd, the film is available on iTunes and Verizon FiOS VOD in millions of homes. MILLIONS OF HOMES, you guys. MILLIONS OF HOMES.
But okay this whole thing is stopping my heart a little bit. Cinema Village is the theater where I went on my first date with Alexis, more than eleven years ago. I was a few weeks out of college and we’d met at a networking event for advertising. I asked him to go see Born Into This and he showed up late with another woman (a friend, who ended up signing as witness on our marriage license). Movement and Location is playing on the very same screen.
This movie has shaped the look and direction of my life since I started writing it in July of 2011. That’s a long time of repeating the synopsis at parties and people saying “cool, how can I see it?” and me saying “I don’t know! ahhh! I don’t know!” because FINALLY I can say: “come watch it in a theater with me.” Oh what a beautiful sentence. Finally I get to toss this bird out of the nest.
Alexis and I are so lucky to have the incomparable women behind Vault Collective helping us get the word out. They also redesigned this website, which, holy shit is this site beautiful. Huge shout out as well to Maura McNamara, who is worth several times her weight in gold. Movies take an army at so many stages and we’ve got such a smart group around us.
So. Save the date. September 18th, we premiere at Cinema Village in New York City.
See you at the movies.
Alexis, Serena and I all went to the Atlanta Film Festival and had one of our best screenings so far. Huge crowd and everyone laughed! Made my day. A huge grateful thanks to everyone at ATLFF but especially Chris Holland and Cameron McAllister. Thanks also to my beloved father-in-law, Bill Boling, who threw us an awesome after party. I was only in Georgia for 48 hours, but believe we squeezed in karaoke.
Thank you, Cameron, for the killer Q&A. Great questions from an engaged audience make me as happy as anything possibly could.
Next up is the Alhambra Film Festival in Evansville, Indiana. I’ll be there representing the film, and I can’t wait. We play Saturday, April 11th at 6:30pm at the Tropicana Casino and Hotel. If you’ll be in Indiana, please come and invite friends!
I am so OVER THE MOON to announce that we’ll be joining the unbelievable lineup at the 2014 Indie Memphis Film Festival.
The festival runs over Halloween weekend, and Alexis and I will both be there. Our screening is Saturday, Nov 1st at 4pm. Details and tickets here.
We can’t wait. We really can’t wait. Plus (obviously) we’ll be taking day trips to Graceland and Dollywood, and please let me know any other Memphis recs if you’ve got ’em.
In additionally wonderful news, two of my favorite women also have films in the Indie Memphis competition slate. Summer of Blood stars our own extraordinary Anna Margaret Hollyman. I saw this at Tribeca and it’s funny and dark and smart and weird and I loved it. (It begins with Anna Margaret proposing to someone, so is it any wonder I love it so much? I did recently send her a text that said I wanted to be the Joel Coen to her Frances McDormand, so.)
And then there’s Thou Wast Mild and Lovely, which features the outrageously talented Kristin Slaysman. I saw this movie at BAM a few months ago, and I adored it, and it’s stuck with me in a very big way. Haunting, for sure. Dreamy and tense and utterly beautiful to look at. Astonishing performances abound. It led to the most interesting post-film conversations I’ve had in ages.
See you in Memphis!
“I wish that one day I will be able to have my own little epic adventure in creating art.”
The nicest note I’ve ever gotten came from a 15-year-old girl in Minnesota. So I got in touch and suggested we interview each other over Skype.
Many, many thanks to Josey for being up for this joint interview. I had so much fun.
And don’t forget we have a screening coming up at the Woods Hole Film Festival in Cape Cod! Movement and Location will screen Tuesday, July 29th at 9pm in Woods Hole, MA. If you have family or friends in that area, please let them know!
Last night was the end of the Brooklyn Film Festival, which was an extraordinary experience, start to finish. They are so filmmaker-centric and helpful and the PR reach was amazing and I’m obsessed with everyone I met, from staff to other filmmakers. Our two screenings were packed and the response was incredible. People laughed and I heard gasps and just HOLY WOW is it fun to watch a film with that engaged a crowd around you.
And then at the awards ceremony last night, we won a few things! They gave us best score (yes Dan Tepfer!), best screenplay (WHAAAAA??? I burst into tears and all I think I said into the mic was “what a fucking honor” – which, I mean, that’s about all I guess I needed to or should say) and we also received the audience award for best feature.
This was taken by Pete Demas when they announced the audience award. I shouldn’t have worn mascara last night is all I’m saying.
I’m over the moon, truly. We all are. What a fucking honor.
Thank you to everyone who came out and saw our premiere and listened to me rapid fire babble at our Q&A and then ate tacos with me under the stars. There is no way the screening could have been better. It was a full house, and so many members of the cast and crew were there, and friends, and family, and total strangers who read our synopsis in the film festival program and thought it might be fun. The energy in the room was magic.
What an honor and a joy, seriously. Probably the best night of my life.
Alexis and me with the unbelievably talented and beautiful Catherine Missal and Anna Margaret Hollyman. Photo by Pete Demas.
And I’m so excited to share more festival news! It’s coming very soon. Stay tuned!
(There are still some tickets for our second screening at the Brooklyn Film Festival on Sunday, June 8th at 8pm! You can get them here!)
We have our two screening dates and times for the Brooklyn Film Festival! Cast and crew will be in attendance at both and I suspect we’ll have some fun post-screening Q&A sessions.
For more details and to buy tickets to the premiere, CLICK HERE.
And keep your eye out for info on an after party the night of May 31st!
Alexis and I were interviewed by Seed&Spark about making MAL, and I talk about some of the crazy shit that happened during filming. Alexis also goes a bit into our general strategy for moving forward.
Yes, I got punched by a stranger and we contended with fires and floods but also—especially now with a little distance and reflection on the scope of the luck that carried us through—making this film remains the best thing I’ve ever done in my life. Even if nothing else comes of it, I can say that honestly and with pride and also with joy.
I am EPICALLY EXCITED to share this film.